Is 4chan still relevant

Almost a billion page impressions per month and still broke - the rise and fall of 4chan.org

It seems like an act of desperation: 4chan owner Hiroyuki Nishimura recently told the community in a post that has since been deleted that 4chan has no future without fundamental changes. He could no longer pay the infrastructure costs for servers, among other things. The traffic giant is on the verge of extinction because it cannot monetize its reach in the millions. We shed light on the reasons and tell the story of failed marketing attempts.

The imageboard 4chan.org is notorious - among other things as the birthplace of countless Internet memes, viral hits and the Internet collective Anonymous. But also for racist and violent content as well as leaked nude pictures of celebrities. The site, which according to the operator is on the verge of bankruptcy, is anything but a premium environment for advertisers. Nevertheless, the question arises as to why the more than 700 million page impressions per month which, according to the company, cannot be marketed profitably.

Formative for internet culture

There are very few websites that have shaped Internet culture as strongly as 4chan.org. The image board, founded in 2003, is considered the origin of an almost endless list of viral memes and trends: lolcats (cat pictures with grammatically incorrect, funny sentences), pedobear (a pedophile bear), various rage faces (see cover picture), rickrolling (Internet users become unwilling directed to the video "Never Gonna Give You Up" by Rick Astley) and many more.

The loose Internet collective Anonymous, which repeatedly takes action with protest actions and hacks against, for example, Scientology, governments or organizations, emerged from 4chan. According to its own information, the site reaches over 700 million page impressions per month with 27.7 million unique users. For comparison: According to IVW, Bild.de had around 540 million PIs in September, Spiegel Online around 375 million.

Funny and perverse at the same time - 4chan.org is famous and notorious

The enormous reach is not only due to funny content. 4chan users do not need to log in or create an account to be able to post; all appear as "Anonymous". The result: Especially under / b /, "4chan's random image board", there are always sexist, racist and violent posts and images. There are a few rules depending on the topic of the respective board, but especially for / b / there is almost no fool's freedom. Insults, racism and pornography are allowed. Anything that violates US law is prohibited. Each post is deleted after a certain period of time.

From another time: The homepage of 4chan.org.

As a result of the absolute freedom and anonymity on 4chan.org, there are always questionable and even dangerous situations. A Youtuber who reviewed books on her channel was so annoyed with comments by the 4chan community that she deleted her channel. At the end of 2013, a 20-year-old announced that he wanted to stream his suicide live for the community. Hundreds watched and celebrated him as a hero until rescue workers intervened. 4chan users were also significantly involved in the hashtag #Gamergate from the end of 2014 - two game developers received so many death threats that they had to go into hiding. Shortly before, 4chan.org was still in the media in connection with “The Fappening” - videos and nude photos of numerous celebrities were hacked and first published on the site.

Trend forge, political influence and still no business model

Numerous other examples show how powerful the 4chan community can be. In 2008 it was possible to put a swastika on top of Google's trend topics by increasing the number of search queries. Currently at least parts of 4chan.org are apparently trying to support Donald Trump in his plan to become US President.

Despite this undeniable influence on network culture and social issues and the huge reach of almost a billion page impressions per month, 4chan.org has never managed to develop a business model to at least get out of the red. The site's current owner, Hiroyuki Nishimura, had just bought it last year from founder Christopher "moot" Poole for an undisclosed amount. In a post that has since been deleted, he now had to admit that 4chan would have no future without fundamental changes. He could no longer pay the infrastructure costs for servers, among other things.

Accordingly, there are currently three options: halving the server costs by reducing the maximum size of uploaded images and closing some boards, using “malicious ads” or generating many more premium users with new features.

The different funding pillars of 4chan.org

The premium function, called 4chan-Pass, was introduced at the end of 2012 and so far has only a few small features. It is not known how many passes are sold each year or have been sold to date.

4chan.org has also been trying for years to cover running costs with classic reach marketing through advertising banners. There are currently three different formats available. According to the operator, the target group that advertisers can reach on the site is 18 to 34 years old, 70 percent male and the majority have attended college or are still enrolled. Japanese culture, anime, manga, video games, comics, technology, music and films are named as interests. According to the information, 47 percent of users come from the United States, eight percent from Great Britain, six percent from Canada and four percent from Germany. Other targeting options are geo-targeting, frequency capping and limiting to certain topic boards. At times, Adbrite was responsible for marketing the Ad Exchange, which ceased operations in 2013. Today 4chan.org emphasizes that you don't work with ad networks.

The 4chan.org self-booking tool page is no longer available.

Until a few days ago, it also seems to have been possible to book other formats in a self-booking tool. Pricing ranged from $ 0.23 to $ 0.25 per 1,000 ad views. The logo and contact of the real-time advertising platform The Rubicon Project were displayed in the footer. At the request of Online Marketing Rockstars, the company appeared to have been surprised by the integration. However, there was no income. It seems that this was a holdover from days when the self-service technology provider Shiny Ads was integrated on 4chan.org. This was taken over by The Rubicon Project at the end of 2014 for an undisclosed amount. Shortly after our request, the self-booking tool was no longer available.

Above-average ad blocker rate - donations as an emergency solution

Since the start of 4chan in 2003, the founder Christopher Poole had to fall back on temporary donation campaigns in order to finance the project. When he was 15, he had designed the site from home based on the Japanese site 2channel. The founder of the model was Hiroyuki Nishimura, who later bought 4chan.org. While Poole never wanted to establish Donations as a permanent solution, Nishimura apparently disagrees. In view of the current financial emergency, the donation function was reactivated a few days ago - although it was not part of the three options mentioned by Nishimura to rescue 4chan.org.

Nishimura contradicts the obvious thought that the difficulties to market the site with advertising banners have to do with the more than questionable community. The environment is not the decisive reason, he has no problems finding advertisers. Rather, an extremely high ad blocker rate ensures that display advertising is no longer worthwhile.

Parallels to Reddit and Mode Media

The story of the forum with millions of users, which despite the often crude content somehow belongs to the network culture, but has serious problems with the monetization of user-generated content, is strongly reminiscent of Reddit. Reddit is also always one of the origins of questionable web phenomena and therefore does not offer the ideal environment for advertisers. Most recently, the company relied on a new strategy behind the site and wanted to generate relevant sales by converting every shop link into an affiliate link without annoying the advertising-hostile community.

A similar problem, albeit for a different reason, recently stumbled upon Mode Media. The Burda stake, which was once valued at one billion US dollars, surprisingly ceased operations in September. According to the analysis service Comscore, Mode Media was the 10th largest digital publisher in the USA with 137 million visitors per month. Large ranges are simply not so easy to monetize these days; especially not with display advertising. According to Recode, Mode Media had tried to convert its business model to video and native ads until the very end - without resounding success.

First prospective buyers

Meanwhile, an illustrious and absurd group of 4chan fans has already expressed their interest in buying the site. The “most hated man on the Internet”, Martin Shkreli, said on Twitter that he was open to joining the “Board of Directors”. The pharmaceutical entrepreneur Shkreli had raised the price of an important AIDS drug by 5,000 percent.


Another "internet villain" announced his interest in 4chan shortly afterwards. The conservative provocation artist Milo Yiannapoulos, whose Twitter account was permanently suspended after insulting US actress Leslie Jones, wants to save 4chan from ruin with the help of an anonymous wealthy supporter.

The founder of the video game Minecraft, Markus “Notch” Persson, is said to have published on Twitter that he was interested in buying 4chan.org. Shortly afterwards, however, he deleted all tweets on the subject from his profile. The fourth member of the group is Charles C. Johnson, journalist and founder of the GotNews.com website, which is said to have strong right-wing and racist tendencies. Who of the four is really serious about buying interest and who is just looking for attention remains open.

Obviously, that hardly plays a role. As 4chan owner Hiroyuki Nishimura recently announced, he has no plans to sell the site. He seems to be hoping for a monetization miracle; maybe accepting donations is already a first reaction to encouragement from the community. Actually hardly imaginable that 4chan users would simply allow their beloved forum to close its doors for absurdities, hatred and memes.